Thursday 25 June 2009

Birding in June rubbish after all. Maybe.

It has been put to me that in fact birding in June is still rubbish, but that twitching in June can be good. This I concede is a fair point, but nonethless, hoping to come back with a withering counter-argument, I went through all my June records for Wanstead. Ah.

I keep my records on an immense spreadsheet, which I usually fill in as soon as get home based on notes I have taken, or more likely, a mental list of what I have seen - generally not too taxing in Wanstead. I moved here about 4 years ago, but only began patching in 2007. Unfortunately for the stunning argument I was going to make, a quick look at my 2007 Wanstead sheet reveals no entries whatsoever. Moving on to 2008, it appears my argument is in deep trouble, as the spreadsheet shows only one outing, on June 8th, with one solitary species recorded, a Hobby. And bar my recent discovery of the local gay meeting point, I have not been out on the patch in June of this year either. Now I refuse to believe that in three years I have gone birding on the patch in June a sum total of twice, as that would be most undedicated and unlike me. I would wager that I have almost certainly been out more than that, and therefore that I have simply neglected to record what I have seen. Sadly this all leads back to the same place - which is that I have probably come back from the Flats so depressed at having spent two hours trudging round for a Greenfinch and a couple of Skylarks that I have just curled up in the foetal position in a corner, bemoaning how rubbish June is and resolving not to bother again until July. Or the latter half of August.

Wanstead Flats, June

So Gavin Haig is probably right that patch birding in June is rubbish. I mean if he finds June on the Devon coast a bit of a slog, what hope have I got on my inland patch that to my knowledge, has recorded one scarce bird in the last 35 years - a Red-rumped Swallow in the Park in 1975. JUNE 1975.

Having said that, if I were, say, a local birder in Orford, just returned from a June 21st patch session....

Birder's wife: See anything Dear?
Birder: Nah it was rubbish. Just a crappy old Woodchat Shrike. [Yawn]
Birder's wife: Never mind Dear, I'm sure it'll pick up in July.

Or perhaps if I lived in Hindolveston....

Birder's wife: Much about Dear?
Birder: Just those boring old Honey Buzzards displaying again. The sooner they piss off back to Africa and we get some proper birds again the better.

Or Cley...

Birder's wife: Any luck Dear?
Birder: Just another sodding Snow Bunting, seen hundreds this year. Bor-ing!

This latter example is probably distressingly accurate. But anyhow, you get the picture, which is that for at least some people, June clearly cannot be described as rubbish. Living and birding in Wanstead, I am unable to convincingly use this argument for myself, but let's just say if I ever find a Woodchat Shrike on the patch in June, or in fact any Shrike in any month, you would never hear the end of it.

So what has been happening on the patch recently? Well I did get a fly-over Kestrel for the garden list (#47 for the geeks out there), but apart from that it has been rubbish. It is June you know. Instead I turned to moths. If you are getting the impression reading this that I am an massive hypocrite capable of astonishing U-turns, then rest assured it is all a figment of your imagination.

Last night I got a text from Shaun saying he had found a Lime Hawkmoth in his garden. Naturally I had no idea what this was. He then sent a photo of it, which blew me away. "Flip!", I thought (or something like that).

Here is Shaun's moth:

And here is Shaun. There are some stones out of shot, being kicked. June? Nope, January.

I immediately resolved to construct a moth trap, and once the kids were in bed, set about my task. I am rubbish at anything DIY-related, I can't really even drill holes in things properly, but just look at this beauty!

1 wine box (need not be Grand Cru, but be prepared to catch less)
1 work light
1 4ft bamboo pole cut into three
1 top from a seed propagator
2 cable ties
3 egg-boxes
Gaffer tape

By the time I had finished, dusk was approaching. Mrs L was led outside for the grand "Switching on" ceremony. Click. I shit you not, but within 20 seconds, we heard an immense fluttering from the bushes, and out popped the largest moth I have ever seen - much bigger than Shaun's. No wonder there are no birds in Wanstead - they all get eaten by moths! I ran back to the house to fetch a container, faster than I have run in a long long time. How exciting is this! Turned out it was a Poplar Hawkmoth, and it was still there in the morning. And as it is depicted on the back of my moth book that Amazon must have delivered in error, I didn't even have to open it to ID it. This mothing lark is easy!


Mrs L is not enthusiastic about me looking at moths. "You are not interested in moths" she said, sternly, "But they're cool, did you see the size of that thing?!". Even more sternly: "I said, you are not interested in moths!". Apparently I have enough hobbies already. Taking this to heart I eagerly set the alarm for 5am so I could go switch off the light and examine what I imagined would be a trap overflowing with moths. In the event the trap was overlowing with just six moths, the largest and most interesting-looking of which flew away as soon I opened it, so no idea what that one was. Another one flew away shortly afterwards, so that too remains a mystery. The remaining four stayed put long enough for me to take some record shots, just like moth-ers are supposed to - following my stunning debut of Poplar Hawkmoth I am now an expert. One minor problem in that I have now been through the moth book three times and still cannot identify any of them. It's just like birding really, except you can do it in June.

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